I travel quite a bit for my job. Lots of flights. Lots of rental cars. Lots of hotels. At one point in my life, travel was exciting. However, frequent business travel makes it all become pretty routine, to be honest.
It’s much like our jobs in enrollment. At first, we’re trying to figure everything out all at once. Student behavior. Big data. Yield ratios. Operations and staffing. It’s all exciting and fascinating. Yet, much like frequent business travel, over time, it all becomes quite ordinary.
Until . . . there’s turbulence. During moments of turbulence, we’re shaken out of our routine and become keenly aware of what is happening around us.
As enrollment leaders, we know turbulence has become part of our industry’s landscape. Things shift and change, and we react to those changes. We have become accustomed to “normal” turbulence and learned how to handle the bumps and bounces throughout the recruitment cycle.
Until . . . the turbulence escalates into something bigger. Something we don’t recognize. Something unplanned for that looks and feels dangerously chaotic.
During these times of instability, we desperately look for strong leadership. Sound reason. Experience. The clear voice of the captain on the speaker calmly communicating about the situation and reassuring a panicky group of passengers who are trying to make sense of events.
We are in that moment, and you are that Captain.
There are six traits that I always want my Captain to have whenever I board a plane, and what schools and staff need from enrollment leaders now:
- Be human.
Be patient and humane to those who are looking to you for direction. True leadership comes in sharing the experience of anxiety and uncertainty, not pretending that you have all the answers and fixes.
- Be honest and transparent.
Our society craves authenticity, and people can see through falsehoods. If there is tough news, be strong and honest with your team.
- Use data, but do not forget to use your instincts.
Our industry has embraced big data as much as any, and gut-checks are no longer as necessary as they once were. But when you face new situations, like the COVID-19 crisis, you capture and utilize your instincts. Now is a time for both science and art as you evaluate situations and shape decisions.
- Be flexible and adaptive.
If there was ever a moment to flex, it is now. Remember, you’re not setting precedents (and you may need to say that to your team at times). You’re making reasonable adaptations considering your situation. These are unprecedented times.
- Stay positive.
I’m not talking about faking positivity. Dig deeper if you need to. Find the positive attitude that got you where you are in this industry. Prospective students and current students need to know you have a plan and believe in the future of your institution.
- Focus on communication – right now.
I don’t think you can over-communicate in this season. Keep your team and your prospects in the know as to what is happening at your school. Keeping people in the dark is your enemy. Your audience needs to hear from you, your team, and the leadership at your school.
During the most turbulent flights, we all want to know the Captain is in control, calm, and providing factual information.
People are depending on you, and I know you are up to the challenge. Best wishes as you pilot forward.